A long time ago in a college not too far away… some new friends invited me to join in their Star Wars role-playing game. This was back in the late nineties (before the prequels), and the system published by West End Games included some cool mechanics and source books that included all of our favorites from the movies and from the expanded universe1. It was pretty rad, and we had lots of fun. The system was based on six-sided dice (d6), and you’d add your base attribute’s score to your skill score and roll that many d6es. There was a “happy die” that could re-roll if you rolled a “6” on it, and also a mechanic for critical failures if it rolled a “1”. If you were doing something super dramatic, you’d spend a force point, which would double the number of dice you rolled. Something about rolling 16 six-sided dice just feels epic and awesome. It was lots of fun. Our elite team acted out missions in tandem to the movies & books, so that we were “there”, just not on-screen2.
As the years progressed, West End’s license expired, and Lucasarts sold tabletop gaming rights to a company that used the Open Gaming License from D&D 3E to create what is affectionately known as “d20 Star Wars”. This had well-defined character options, better fleshed-out rules for some of the interactions, and snazzy feats that could customize your character. Sure, the force-using classes were a bit over-powered, but that made enough sense that it didn’t totally ruin the fun of the game. We still got to act out our favorite scenes, but with video games relating to other force users getting released around that time, there seemed to be more source material focusing on those titles3. And sure, it wasn’t as cool to roll a single d20 as it was rolling a handful of d6es, but we made the most of it and had plenty of adventures.
With 3rd edition D&D falling by the wayside, the OGL stopped being as enticing to other gaming companies, and the future of Star Wars RPG products became less clear to all of us (ravenous) fans. But then a dark horse entered the race… a little gaming company called Fantasy Flight got the rights to start making Star Wars themed tabletop games. They put out a cool ship-to-ship game, and they also began work on something called “Edge of Empire”. That’s what I’d like to talk to you about today.
Edge of Empire feels like it owes as much to Joss Whedon’s Firefly series as it does to the Star Wars brand. While there are races and ships and setting things that you’ll certainly recognize from the Star Wars universe, the overall feeling is closer to a space western than a high-tech CGI-fest. Set far away from the sites of any of the movies, Edge of Empire asks what life was like out on the edges of space. It asks how heroes & villains got along without the fate of galaxies in their hands. And most surprisingly, it asks you to enjoy a Star Wars RPG without any Jedi characters. Sure, if you spend lots of points on it, you can be a little bit force-sensitive… but gone are the days of having a party with 2 Jedi Knights and a Jedi healer and another Jedi martial artist Teras Kasi master. But you know what? I think that’s exactly what the Star Wars brand needed: less flash, more substance.
While the final version of Edge of Empire is available now, I started playing maybe a year ago with some folks at Modern Myths during the Beta test phase. I have to say that I really appreciate the way Fantasy Flight listened to the feedback from players and progressively made their system better and better throughout this playtest period. There are still some unique quirks, but they hardly takes away from the fun, and they help to define the feel of this gaming system.
The biggest complaint I’ve heard about the game is the dice system. I’m on the fence about it4, but I’ll try to give you both sides and let you decide. While the dice used are similar to other polyhedrals (namely d6, d8, & d12), they all have custom sides that show blank, success, super-success, and/or advantage (positive dice), or blank, failure, super-failure, and/ or threat (negative dice)5. Your die pools are made up of different combinations of positive dice, and the difficulty is rolled by the DM with different combinations of failure dice. You succeed at things by getting more successes or super-successes than failures or super-failures. Whether or not you have more advantages or threats on the roll determines whether or not something cool happens to influence the way you succeed or fail. For instance, if I totally fail my blaster roll, but get lots of advantages on it, maybe I miss the bad guy, but accidentally shoot the switch to close the loading bay door, blocking his escape. Or I could succeed on my hacking (“slicing”) check, but roll lots of threats, meaning that I’ve left a trail another hacker could follow.
The proponents of this system love how non-numerical it is. Unlike a strict plus/minus system (like D&D 4E), people are less concerned with their bonus values, and more willing to take a risky maneuver and let the dice decide. The folks on the other side are upset because it’s harder to calculate average enemy difficulty for a party, and it’s difficult to determine whether adding an extra positive d6 is really any better than subtracting a negative d8. While the dice are a little annoying to learn at first, most folks should pick it up pretty quickly. And if you’re not into buying new dice or putting the provided stickers onto your existing dice, there’s a very reasonably-priced Edge of Empire dice app that you can download to your smart device6 to use while playing.
In addition to the dice mechanics, the system also benefits from a fairly broad job-based class system, so you can have a primary job with certain in-class skills and power trees, plus you can buy secondary jobs to gain access to their skills & trees as well (though at a higher cost). This greatly increases the ability to design custom characters. So if you want to play a piece-mail droid that was cobbled together from an assassin droid and a medical droid, you can just take the Bounty Hunter job and the Doctor job and take skills from both. If you want to play a wookie pit-fighter who also knows how to fly a starfighter7, that’s totally fine as well. And if you’re a drifter who picks up a bit of lots of different abilities, the rules make that a viable option also.
In the end, of course, your game will be determined by your players and game master. But as a starting point, the rules for Edge of Empire set the stage for some pretty awesome space-westerny sort of roleplaying. Combat is fast enough (once you learn the dice), and there are enough additional cool (or uncool) things that can happen with the advantage/threat system that you do get the feel that you’re in some kind of zany movie adventure. I hear that eventually they’re planning on putting out a Force-user book, but I think the system is pretty fine where it’s at. Let’s have fun on the fringes of society, where we’re too worried about local governments and bandits to care about how to make a laser sword exist.
If you’re interested in checking out Edge of Empire play, there’s a game that runs every other week at the Northampton Modern Myths store. Check the store calendar for details.1. Though, sadly, Noghri were not a playable race. 2. We just barely escaped from the Super Star Destroyer before it crashed into the surface of the Death Star in Empire Strikes Back, for instance. 3. Which were, arguably, a lot easier to market than Gungan-themed materials 4. A fence made of LIGHTSABERS!!! 5. There are more “official” names & symbols for the die rolls, but for the purpose of a quick run-through, I’ll use my own words. 6. Though please, for the love of Blue Harvest, TURN THE SOUND OFF. Hearing the same blaster & lightsaber sounds EVERY TIME gets old very fast. 7. And, really, who DOESN’T want to play that?